Music venue owners frustrated after N.C. governor’s recent mask recommendations

They want their customers and their employees to be safe. Now, it’s on them to make the call on how to do that.
The CDC is encouraging us all to mask up when in public indoors, but that is not being mandated in either of the Carolinas. Some business owners are pretty
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 8:51 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The CDC is encouraging us all to mask up when in public indoors, but that is not being mandated in either of the Carolinas.

Some business owners are pretty frustrated over it.

After months of closures, they want to stay open. They want their customers and their employees to be safe. Now, it’s on them to make the call on how to do that.

Joe Kuhlmann owns The Evening Muse in NoDa. They just opened a couple of months ago. He says they’ve been doing their part.

“We’ve been cleaning everything, making sure that there’s plenty of hand sanitizer around,” he says, “We were kind of under the impression that more people were actually vaccinated than we realized. Come to find out, that’s not the case, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, we require you to wear a mask inside The Evening Muse.”

On Thursday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced he would not impose a mask mandate, despite rising COVID-19 cases. He said the focus right now should be getting more people vaccinated.

But Kuhlmann says, this is too much pressure on businesses that are already struggling.

“I’m really disappointed in the governor. I’m really disappointed in the decision to not enforce a mandate. Basically putting his strong suggestion to put this on small businesses, when small businesses have been hampered enough, you know? And now we have to try and do his job. We have nothing to back us up. We’re going to wind up getting sued, or we’re going to lose business,” Kuhlmann says, “We’ve had people though that have demanded refunds of tickets. We’ve had people say some rather unsavory things on social media about us. And people that say that they’re never coming back. All for doing what’s right for all of us. And it’s just really disturbing that our humanity is being challenged and not grown or elevated and lifted up.”

It’s a tough position to be in.

Kuhlmann isn’t alone.

Petra’s in Plaza Midwood has been a venue for local bands and jazz artists for the last 15 years or so.

They had to shut down during the pandemic, too.

They’re finally reopening this weekend. Live music starts next week. One of their first shows will be a jazz session. But with all that’s happening - owner Perry Fowler isn’t as thrilled as he’d like to be.

Jamie: Perry, great to see you in person as opposed to a Zoom call that we did a long time ago. Back when we talked then, on Zoom, the frustration, right? And the unknowing of what was going to happen going forward, that was a stressful time, wasn’t it?

Perry: Super stressful. Yeah. Still stressful.

Jamie: How did you get through it?

Perry: I got my real estate license (laughs)

Jamie: Diversify, did you?

Perry: Yeah, a little bit.

Jamie: Here you are. You’re ready, right? To open?

Perry: Almost. We’re getting there. The camera can’t see it, but there’s a lot of junk around here. We’re moving steadily towards the goal.

Jamie: And then all of the sudden, all the Delta news comes out, and masks, no masks comes out. What were you thinking when you heard that all that this week?

Perry: I wasn’t really thinking a whole lot about it because my mind was so focused on everything going on here and making sure I have staff, and like this just kind of came out of the blue. Just within the last day or two really, I’ve been thinking about it. We still don’t have a decision made yet as to what we’re going to do about it.

Jamie: About masks, that sort of thing?

Perry: Yeah, masks and the policing and mandating the masks. We’re kind of out here on an island. We can’t lean on a mandate set down by the governor. So it puts a lot of pressure on us to try to figure out what the best move is and keep everybody happy.

Jamie: And you waited a good long time to reopen. Some other places around here obviously have done that now, even for a few months. Was there a reason you waited and just wanted to make sure everything was ready to go?

Perry: That was the main reason. Just for that reason alone, we did not want to have to police the whole thing. It’s hard enough to get people to want to show their IDs at the door when it’s required by law to do so. But now we’re getting into a situation where we don’t have any support from a larger entity. It opens up a lot of discussion - unneeded discussion - at the door. I don’t care about your politics. I don’t care about any of that stuff. We’re here to provide entertainment and provide a safe environment. And that’s what our main goal is.

Jamie: What was sort of the darkest day through all this for you?

Perry: Just unknowing. Just thinking back to where we all were the second, third week of March. Not knowing anything about the virus, not knowing how it spreads, if it’s contacted through surfaces or through the air, nobody really knew anything. Having to close down and not knowing then if we would ever be able to open up. That was probably the darkest time.

Jamie: So Sunday comes around, right? You’re gonna have your first act in here. Who is it?

Perry: It’s a day party. It’s called Hazy Sunday, presented by a couple local DJs Will Gilreath and Ray Krol. It’s a bi-monthly event that we have in the back patio. It’s a pretty fun time.

Jamie: So that’ll be outside mostly.

Perry: Yeah. That’s one reason why I’m not stressing too hard because the first event is outdoors. It gives me a little time until Monday to figure out what we’re gonna do.

Jamie: Because then Monday is a live act, right?

Perry: We’re calling it the Bill Hanna Legacy Jazz Session, because it’s still his band that he put together. So, that’s every Monday night.

Jamie: What’s that going to be like for you when the doors open?

Perry: It’s gonna be great. I’m running sound at night, and I can’t wait. It’s been too long since we’ve had allowed music to the public and I think people are craving it. I’m craving it. It’s gonna be nice.

Petra’s first day open is Sunday. Hazy Sunday is from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Bill Hanna Legacy Jazz Session is Monday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tickers are $5 in advance, and $7 at the door.

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